I suggest in this post to look at the ways each of us could improve the efficiency of the trainings we get the chance to participate. This is only my personal return
f experience and I encourage you to enrich it with your own comments. It does apply to all sorts of training while Project Management is taken as a main example.
An approach in three points: 1. Before, 2. During and 3. After the training.
1. Before: a large part of the success resides in the preparation
This should sound familiar to all PMs. This phase of preparation is indeed critical as it is for any project. First of all, let's address some relatively simple questions:
What would I like to learn?
It is crucial to try to be as precise as possible while taking into account the fact that it is difficult to have certainties on a subject which we do not know yet. If we go on training, it is generally to discover a new domain, acquire or perfect a skill, learn to master new tools, processes or methods.
Why? And am I ready?
What are my motivations for this training? Will it be really applicable and useful in a relatively close future?
Personally, I avoid any specialized training which I cannot put into practice in the coming 3 months. It also allows me to start to prepare the "post training" phase.
Other important criteria: pre-requisites. Do I have the experience and the necessary knowledge so that this learning can be beneficial? If I attend an advanced class of preparation for the PMP® certification without the required experience (3 years minimum as a PM) and without having done the preliminary classes, there is a strong risk that it'll be of little value.
Also, considering my workload, is the timing convenient to attend this training course? I had the chance to follow several intense education programs (each of them several months long): IT consulting university, preparation for the PMP® certification, Intrapreneurship University. All three were very dense and demanding with long weeks out of the office and far away from home. With, to top it of, personal work to provide between the classroom sessions, and that required availability and concentration. If I engage in a long cursus: will my family bear with me?
Will my boss support me in this education?
Let's not waste time pointlessly seeking classes which would not be approved (unless you have decided to pay from your own pocket or to use your DIF for the French people). Of course, your ability to convince can be essential as well as your positioning of the training in a logical manner with regard to your job and ambitions. But, the budgets are not extensible and some classes very expensive in cost and at time: so, do not jump this step. Will your boss be ready to help you to put these new skills into practice: new tasks, responsibilities or projects, with coaching (by him or others), or by giving you some time to prepare for the certification.
What are the classes which can address your expectations?
Diverse vectors of research are to be used: the human resources department of the company, colleagues, manager, the Internet and especially professional forums and blogs, the training companies... For longer studies, it is also interesting to take into account: the reputation of the provider and its education programs, the trainer (a lot of information on the internet if you succeed in obtaining his or her name). For example, some trainers for the PMP® Exam preparation have a success rate with their students that is close to 100 %. Select these!
2. During the class: focus and concentration
That's it, I am there, the long awaited class is starting.
I cut the telephone, emails, and I took my precautions to avoid any non-absolutely critical interrupt. The periods of training are rare enough that we shall take advantage of these well by dedicating ourselves 100 %. I thus made sure that all those who could need to join me as a matter of urgency know who to contact in my place or at what time I shall be contactable. Personally, I try to set time slots to read urgent emails, check the answering machine and SMS in an asynchronous mode (i.e. when it is the best moment for me) and I stick to these.
I try hard to mentally apply what I learn in the class to concrete situations of my professional and personal life. Very often, it allows to memorize better and to verify my understanding. For example, when I attended the training courses preparing for the Project Management Professional PMP® certification, I had already quite a lot of experience in project management and several active projects. When we approached a new PMI® domain of competence with techniques related to it, I tried to identify a project on which I thought I had observed (or applied) good practices on the topic and another one where things did not go so well. These reference points allowed me to very quickly associate the theory with practical experience and try to understand why I had experienced either success or difficulties.
an open mind
It is not rare during classes to learn things which we did not expect: what you will retain may not always be directly the purpose of the training. For example, it is frequent that you'll meet people for the first time and have to practice exercises in small teams with them. It can be with persons coming from other countries, cultures, professions, experiences... During a class about the methods to elaborate of a business plan, I learned how to undermine some conflicts that arise during the building of a team through objectives alignment and dialogue. It was not directly what I expected to learn from the class, but it turned out to be very valuable upon return in my day to day job and also to take on new responsibilities!
3. After: how to benefit
We learnt, now we need to practice this fresh knowledge so that it becomes a real competence.
It is necessary to create for ourselves opportunities to practice what we recently acquired. Otherwise we'll very rapidly forget it. If the initial preparation stage prior to the course was well executed, I have defined my motivations for this training and convinced my boss to invest in me. It is necessary upon my return to review this list of motivations and turn it into a list of concrete objectives to implement in order to really master the new skill. For example, if I attended a class on risk management, I will commit upon return to review within a couple of weeks the risk analysis of my main project (in the lights of the new methodology) and to produce corresponding deliverables: risks register, risk evaluation, priorities, risk management plan, method for periodic control. If it was a course on the presentation skills, I try to create an opportunity in the month to come to deliver a presentation to a wide audience.
It is rather rare that a class will give me all methods, techniques, know-how. On the other hand, I now have pointers, vocabulary, basic skills to go further (books, studies, web sites). If the subject is of real interest to me, I will follow up on evolutions. For example, the project managers certified before 2009 will study the changes brought by PMI in the new version of the PMBOK standard. They will join forums and blogs on the topic. They'll follow the evolutions of the domain. If my boss accepted to coach me or to provide me with an experienced coach, I'll establish concrete objectives with him.
I met new persons (including the trainer). Some of them very interesting and with whom I have discovered affinities. I'll keep in touch. I'll send them a message after the class, suggest remaining connected via professional networks (Linkedin, Viadeo or others), send them regularly some news about me and interesting articles on the subject we studied together, if possible I'll organizing opportunities to meet to keep the link alive.
As indicated in the introduction, this is only my personal return of experience and I encourage you to enrich it with your comments.